May 20, 2024


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Jerry Seinfeld can no longer be about nothing

Jerry Seinfeld can no longer be about nothing

Jerry Seinfeld became the microphone-hugging, cereal-eating, “Have You Ever Noticed” embodiment of American Jewish life with a brazenly shrugged persona: a cheerful indifference to weighty material as a comedian and on his blockbuster TV show about nothing, as trivial and apolitical as it seemed.

Now — off camera, at least — Mr. Seinfeld appears to have reached post-nothing.

Since the October 7 attacks in Israel, and through their bloody and volatile aftermath in Gaza, Seinfeld, 70, has emerged as a striking public voice against anti-Semitism and support for Jews in Israel and the United States, cautiously moving toward a more forward-thinking defensive role than he seemed. He seeks it through decades of fame.

He shared his thoughts about life on the kibbutz as a teenager, and in December traveled to Tel Aviv to meet with the families of the hostages. A sober novel After that missile attack that he received during the trip.

He has, to some extent, engaged in a kind of celebrity activity that few associate with him – Letter signing campaigns, Serious messages On social mediaThe answer is simple When recently asked about the motivation behind his visit to Israel: “I am Jewish.”

As some American cities and universities seethe with conflict over the Middle East crisis and Israel’s military response, Mr. Seinfeld has faced a degree of rarely courted public scorn as a breakfast-obsessed comedian, exacerbated by the outspoken advocacy of his wife, Jessica, the cookbook author.

This week, like a married couple and their children They appeared together at the premiere From Mr. Seinfeld’s new movie (“Unfrosted,” about Pop-Tarts), Ms. Seinfeld has attracted attention for another reason: she Promoted on InstagramShe said she helped fund a counter-protest at UCLA, where clashes with pro-Palestinian demonstrators turned violent.

Among some activists on this side of the divide, disdain toward the Seinfeld family has been building for months.

“Pro-genocide!” Protesters shouted down Seinfeld on Manhattan’s Upper East Side in February, when a “State of World Jewry” speech by Barry Weiss, a former opinion editor at The New York Times and a writer whose media company owns The Free Press, left… And he defended By Mrs. Seinfeld.

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In some ways, the couple’s choices since October 7 reflect the tensions gripping many American families in this polarizing moment, as they publicly negotiate the boundaries of what they say and do about their political beliefs.

A representative for Mr. Seinfeld referred an inquiry to Hendy Bobko, an executive director at UJA-Federation of New York who knows Ms. Seinfeld through Jewish philanthropy. “The vast majority of New York Jews have a strong emotional connection to Israel,” Ms. Popko said. Seeing Mr. Seinfeld visiting hostage families in Israel, she added, “was a very powerful source of comfort for our community.”

Yossi Schneider, a relative of several hostages who met the Seinfeld family in Israel in December and shared his family’s story, recalls that Seinfeld was supportive and reserved, listening more than he talked.

“I’m putting myself in his shoes,” Schneider said in an interview, adding that Seinfeld may not have known “exactly what to ask.” “His wife asked me what she could do. I told them I just wanted them to keep the story alive.

Mr. Seinfeld, who is set to cast A.J Commencement address at Duke University This month, he’s been private about his personal beliefs, on stage and otherwise. His television show of the same name has generally denied political introspection. His proudly reserved disposition favored insubstantial remarks about driving, dating, and air travel — everyday activities to which citizens of all political stripes are equally exposed.

Since “Seinfeld,” he has spoken extensively about the art of comedy itself, placing it within a morally neutral framework whose ultimate goal is to make people laugh. (Mr. Seinfeld has been making headlines recently To suggest in an interview with The New Yorker magazine that “the far left and PC idiocy” have hampered comedy.)

The shifts in Mr. Seinfeld’s public attitude after October 7 were modest, if still tangible. He is still less frank on the subject than other celebrities and comedians, such as Amy Schumer. But for a figure who has long been held up, like few others in entertainment, as a narrator of the American Jewish experience across generations, even a cautious exploration of his identity was notable.

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In one The last interview — part of a promotional tour for the movie Pop-Tarts — Mr. Seinfeld said he felt “very close to the struggle to be Jewish in the world.”

He also stopped preaching widely.

“I’m not preaching about it,” he said He told GQ Last month. “I have my personal feelings about it and I discuss them privately. It’s not part of what I can do comedically, but my feelings are very strong.”

Mr. Seinfeld’s views on Israel appear to mirror those of many Jews of his time. A representative confirmed that he grew up on Long Island, attended Hebrew school and became a bar mitzvah the year he turned thirteen. that was The year 1967, the year of the Arab-Israeli War, radically changed American Jewish consciousness, solidifying support for Israel as a pillar of American Jewish life.

In contrast, American Jews who came of age since the 1980s or 1990s did not know firsthand an Israel that was regionally vulnerable. The youngest American Jews, a predominantly progressive group, may remember Israel led by increasingly right-wing governments under Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been prime minister almost uninterrupted for the past 15 years.

Mr. Seinfeld’s instinctive solidarity toward Israel was typical of their generation, said Leonard Sacks, a professor of Jewish studies at Brandeis University.

“We grew up concerned about Israel and its survival, and we see Israel as a refuge for Jews from all over the world,” Mr. Sachs said.

Some data points, even before October 7, suggest a deeper concern on the part of Mr. Seinfeld about his Jewish identity.

when Instagram share From Ms. Seinfeld, advising her followers on how to talk about anti-Semitism, it went viral in 2022, with Mr. Seinfeld retweeting the message (“I support my Jewish friends and the Jewish people”) and Alive Its simplicity and “non-aggressive” strength.

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But for some with warm memories of “Seinfeld” — and staunch opposition to Israel’s response to October 7 — the comedian’s actions since that day have been disappointing.

Wajahat Ali, a writer and commentator who has been harshly critical of the Israeli government and Hamas, noted that Mr. Seinfeld’s support for Israel carried greater weight given his previous status as a “celebrity apolitical who could muster no concern or interest in it.” What was happening in the world?”

“That was part of his aesthetic,” Mr. Ali said. But he added that Seinfeld has now chosen to speak like a very wealthy man from a “cocoon of privilege” in the midst of a “brutal war” that he does not condemn.

Mr. Seinfeld certainly sees it differently. His public comments have largely avoided geopolitical details, focusing little on the Netanyahu government’s options or potential terms for a ceasefire.

And he can still seem hesitant even in recent discussions about the Jewishness of “Seinfeld” — which an NBC executive once described as “too New York, too Jewish.”

It has been claimed Interview last month And with New Yorker magazine editor David Remnick (“There was an element of, ‘We can’t be too Jewish,’” Mr. Remnick suggested), Mr. Seinfeld was not long in talking about the subject.

“Not very Jewish. We’d surf the roof from time to time,” Mr. Seinfeld said, adding: “Maybe we mentioned a bar mitzvah once, maybe. I don’t know.”

Another memorable storyline, in an eighth-season episode that first aired in 1997, was perhaps even more telling: Jerry’s fictional dentist converted to Judaism — largely, Jerry suspects, to get away with telling transparently corny jokes about Jews.

Troubled Jerry searches for wisdom in the church confessional.

“Does this offend you as a Jewish person?” The priest asks him.

He says: “No.” “It discredits me as a comedian.”